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slkinsey

eG Foodblog: slkinsey's Thanksgiving Week Diary

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Note: Now that it's Thanksgiving week, this Diary has upped the ante by turning into the weekly foodblog as well. Click here to go down to the beginning of the foodblog.

In consultation with our blog Czar over in the General forum, I am going to be writing about the preparations leading up to our big Thanksgiving Dinner which, as most of you know, is just around the corner in a few weeks.

I guess it's been around ten years now that I've been doing Thanksgiving dinner partys, and they have increased in sophistication and complexity every year. It was just the usual turkey, dressing, and vegetable sides the first year. Then that grew into Turducken with the usual sides jazzed up a bit. After a few years of Turducken, I started getting tired of that and began moving in the direction of multiple courses. The first time I think we made a lobster bisque followed by a buckwheat crepe filled with a leek and gruyere mixture alongside a bundle of three asparagus spears held together with a strip of bacon, and then a turkey ballotine stuffed with a chicken and foie gras mousse. From there, it just kind of took off, and this is where we found ourselves last year:

Assorted Crudités

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico, Viticoltori Nino Franco, NV

– – –

Kumamoto Oyster On The Half-Shell With Cucumber Granita

Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lies, Cuvee Vielles Vignes, Domaine Clos des Briords, 2002

– – –

Cauliflower Soup With Seared Diver Scallop And Curry Oil

Saumur Blanc "La Papareille," Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Mixed Herb Salad With Shrimp Ceviche

Saumur Blanc "La Papareille," Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

– – –

Toasted Corn And Stilton Soufflé

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts With Guanciale and Chive/Oregano Vinaigrette

Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Alain Hudelot-Noellat, 2000

– – –

Lemon-Thyme Sorbet

Moscato d'Asti "Vigneto Biancospino," Azienda Agricola Dante Rivetti, Piemonte, 2002

– – –

Turkey Two Ways With Cornbread Dressing, Foie Gras And Black Truffle Carpaccio

Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup "Le Rollier," Domaine Mas Foulaquier, 2001

Sonoma Valley Red Wine "Albarello," H. Coturri & Sons, 2001

– – –

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Cranberry Cheesecake

Pecan Tart

Coffee

– – –

Palmiers and Chocolate Truffles

Grappa, Scotch, Bourbon, Etc.

So the question is, what are we going to have this year? Over the next few weeks I'll post here about the process from end-to-end, from settling on a guest list to picking the wines, to QAing new dishes to picking out wines to dinnertime logistics and execution to cleanup, and more.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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So happy to be following you along in this journey. Your menu from last year looks simply wondeful. How many do you usually have at the table?

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We usually have between ten and twelve. The table is designed for ten, but twelve is workable.

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Sounds wonderful and last year's menu sounded divine. Do you have to work around any food allergies, preferences etc?

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We have in the past had guests with severe fish and nut allergies, which we were able to accomodate with minor revisions to the dishes they were served.

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Okay... so step one of menu planning is to take a look at what we had last year and decide what I think about it. There are three concerns here: 1. to replace or tweak things that weren't a total success, 2. to improve, refine or vary good ideas from last time, and 3. to rotate some dishes off the menu so it isn't the same thing every year. With that in mind, here are some thoughts I am kicking around:

Assorted Crudités

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico, Viticoltori Nino Franco, NV

This is something we eat/drink before coming to table. The idea is to have something to snack on, but not too filling.

The Nino Franco prosecco is excellent. That said, we've done this more or less the same for years and I think it might be time for a change. First, as certain regular guests have been agitating for cranberry, we had the thought of doing a "cranberry bellini" instead of just straight prosecco. This needs to be tested, but my going-in idea is: cook/puree/sieve a bag of frozen cranberrys (this is good, because it can be done several days in advance -- a key element of the overall strategy for this party), then each champagne glass will get a spoonfull of cranberry puree, then a sugar cube soaked with orange bitters, then filled with prosecco. Could use rosemary stalks with all the needles stripped off except up at the top as a garnish. One advantage of this is that I can (and should) buy cheaper prosecco.

Fellow eGulleter ewindels usually does the crudités. We will talk about ideas for this year.

More menu thoughts soon...

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Three shellfish courses, following each other?

I'll get to that. Some of those are changing. However, I should point out that the scallop is really just a garnish in the cauliflower soup, and the ceviche/herb salad dish is basically herb salad with a ceviche garnish.

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I'm curious how the bread pudding went over last year?

I tried that for dessert one Thanksgiving and it was barely touched. I know it was good. The main reason cited was that no one wanted a starchy dessert after such a big meal and that bread pudding was very similar, in texture I guess, to the bread stuffing that went with the bird.

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Sounds wonderful and last year's menu sounded divine.  Do you have to work around any food allergies, preferences etc?

With regard to this, my dad is coming this year - he is diabetic. Doesn't drink alcohol for that reason, too.

K

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Bread pudding has always been a big hit at Thanksgiving, but there are a few things one has to consider...

In general I try to make the dinner as light on starch as possible, because starches can be so filling. The portion of dressing is very small, and is really the only starch.

After a few gut-busting Thanksgiving dinners, I also am beginning to get a handle on portion size. These are all plated courses, so I can control the portion size. You have to have small portions when you have so many courses. This year, I am going to make the portions even one size smaller than last year.

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Fellow eGulleter ewindels usually does the crudités.  We will talk about ideas for this year.

As I breathlessly anticipate having the crudités discussed with me, I have decided that in a nod to our aging and decreasing capacity for gluttony and therefore the advantage of a much lighter pre-prandial nosh, I'm dispensing this year with the goat cheese and herb dip. Real tasty, but a little too heavy prior to the masticatory battle to come. Vegetables will be brined or pickled, research still ongoing, details to follow.

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So, next is:

Kumamoto Oyster On The Half-Shell With Cucumber Granita

Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lies, Cuvee Vielles Vignes, Domaine Clos des Briords, 2002

This I thought worked very well as the course that calls everyone to the table. It's nice to sit down at the table and have something briny, bracing and cold to start the meal. Last year I served these on little mounds of rock salt, on top of frozen blocks of inch-thick slate. That was pretty cool. I've vastly improved my oyster opening skills in the last year, so this one should be easier, too. It's also good that this course doesn't require any cooking -- the soup course can come up to temperature on the stove while we're eating this one. I can I'll keep this for 2004.

Nevertheless, there are things that I wasn't entirely happy about.

Last year I ordered the oysters ahead of time and picked them up. This means that I didn't get to pick them out. They were high quality oysters, but overall a good bit larger than I might have liked. I'll be picking out my own this year. It means more time at the store when it's mobbed, but c'est la vie.

Last year I put a scoop of cucumber granita right into the shell with the oyster. Nice idea in my head, but not as good in execution. It's also diffisult to execute under time pressure. Better would be something that can be pre-set and simply placed. This year, I think I am going to use some hollowed out sections of English cucumber to form little "cups" for the granita. Hopefully I can portion the granita into the cucumber-cups a few hours before dinner and place the filled cucumber-cupsin the freezer (I'll have to see how this effects the appearance of the cups). That way, once the oysters are opened, all I have to do is place a mound of rock salt on each piece of slate, bed the oyster shell in the salt and drop a filled oyster-cup onto the corner of the slate.

I need to think of a cool and interesting garnish for this. Wine TBD (there will be a section on wines early next week).

Cleanup is easy. Just use a damp cloth to swipe off each slate into the trash and stack the slates in a predetermined out-of-the way niche.

This whole course is one bite of oyster, maybe 4 demitasse spoons of granita and around 1/3 of a glass of wine.

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Interesting. We made an appetizer for a dinner party this summer using slices of english cucumber with a little indentation to hold a lobster salad. (Nothing at all like your granita, I know.) My only warning to you about doing this is the propensity for moisture to move through the flesh of the cucumber and pool below. You would have to work fast for filling and couldn't have them sitting around for very long after they are out of the freezer. Not trying to be discouraging, just letting you in on something we didn't think about prior to having little pools of liquid on the platter below each slice. I think your idea of giving it a try first is a good one, carry on.

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This whole course is one bite of oyster, maybe 4 demitasse spoons of granita and around 1/3 of a glass of wine.

I would insist on seconds.

Stephen brings up a good point about the moisture. Cukes are really wet to start with (even the English ones), and when you freeze them and damage the cells, it's only going to get worse. You might try salting them for an hour or so as part of your prep. This draws out a lot of moisture, and has surprisingly little effect on flavor (if that matters, since it's a garnish that might not get eaten anyway).

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I do a hot oyster souffle in the halfshell, on a bed of rocksalt, that I like as a starter, but I really prefer for myself to start with half a dozen freshly opened, au natur

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Fellow eGulleter ewindels usually does the crudités.  We will talk about ideas for this year.

As I breathlessly anticipate having the crudités discussed with me, I have decided that in a nod to our aging and decreasing capacity for gluttony and therefore the advantage of a much lighter pre-prandial nosh, I'm dispensing this year with the goat cheese and herb dip.

I must have the stomach of a 30 year old in a body almost twice that age. What decreasing capacity? Especially come Thanksgiving!

Real tasty, but a little too heavy prior to the masticatory battle to come.  Vegetables will be brined or pickled, research still ongoing, details to follow.

Pickling/Brining - Fritz Blanc pickled a whole watermelon for the Southern Foodways Alliance Syposium as part of his presentation on watermelon rinds. It was fantastic. If you're interested I'll track it down - takes about two weeks as I recall, so time is of the essence. Then again it has been years since I have purchased a watermelon - have no idea if they're still available come November. But if so, it would make for some interesting pre-dinner noshing and conversation.

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Stephen brings up a good point about the moisture. Cukes are really wet to start with (even the English ones), and when you freeze them and damage the cells, it's only going to get worse. You might try salting them for an hour or so as part of your prep. This draws out a lot of moisture, and has surprisingly little effect on flavor (if that matters, since it's a garnish that might not get eaten anyway).

Right. Well, there are two things at play here: 1. the cucumber cup is not meant to be eaten, and 2. if the cucumber cups freeze well and they are sitting on a block of frozen slate, melting will hopefully not be an issue. But it's definitely something I should QA.

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Wine TBD (there will be a section on wines early next week).

Looking forward to that discussion. I've already a few ideas for you, but am eagerly anticipating seeing the menu firm up before making any suggestions.

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I guess it's been around ten years now that I've been doing Thanksgiving dinner partys, and they have increased in sophistication and complexity every year. 

Sophisticated by the standards of a Roman orgy, maybe!

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Sam - how much help are you getting with this? And, if offered, are you good at accepting it?

I tend to have to do these big meals on my own - but then when someone does offer their help, I'm at something of a loss as to what they should do.

Yours,

Choppy of Chilicothe

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Three shellfish courses, following each other?

Is that a problem? I'm of the school that there never can be too much shellfish. :wink:

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Sam - how much help are you getting with this? And, if offered, are you good at accepting it?

I tend to have to do these big meals on my own - but then when someone does offer their help, I'm at something of a loss as to what they should do.

We have a large-for-NY but small-for-anywhere-else kitchen, so it's difficult to have a lot of help back there. I have help moving plates out to the table and clearing in between courses, and some limited help at plating... but not much. The real secret is to come up with things that can be made ahead of time and plated easily. You also have to have a good game plan in place for which things go where and when certain things get done. As you can see, the oyster course isn't particularly difficult to plate and I'm under no time constraint there because I can open the oysters before everyone sits down. I would never schedule the opening of a dozen oysters in the middle of the meal, because that would be too much trouble and take too much time.

Once I start talking about the next course, I'll begin to talk about dinnertime logistics and scheduling.

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Continuing to look down the menu, we have:

Cauliflower Soup With Seared Diver Scallop And Curry Oil

Saumur Blanc "La Papareille," Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

This was the surprise hit of last year. It's literally nothing more than a large head of cauliflower cooked until just tender in milk, then pureed and enrichened with a little cream and chicken stock. The curry oil is made by heating good curry powder in olive oil and infusing the oil for several hours, then straining it all through a coffee filter. Last year, each dish was garnished with a single seared diver scallop and drizzled with the curry oil.

The nice thing about this soup is that it can be made several days in advance and then warmed up on the stove for service. I've tried it cold, and it just doesn't work.

I'm going to be keeping this dish more or less intact this year, with a few modfications. I'm reducing the size of the serving and switching from a wide shallow bowl to a tall narrow bowl. I'm eliminating the scallop. I'd also like to do another layer of something hidden underneath. I've been thinking of putting a spinach puree on the bottom of the bowl and then filling the rest of the way with the cauliflower puree and garnishing with the curry oil. Spinach goes with curry flavors, right? Any thoughts? It would also be nice to think of one other garnish element for the surface of the soup. Something like a single leaf of chervil laid down flat on the surface.

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Next is:

Mixed Herb Salad With Shrimp Ceviche

Saumur Blanc "La Papareille," Domaine Saint-Vincent, 2002

I like the idea of having a tiny little salad and something cold after the soup. I'm looking for bright flavors and some acidity, no richness. This salad, which was a handfull of mized herbs dressed with integrated lemon/olive oil and two medium shrimp "ceviched" in lemon juice, worked well for that purpose. However, I've done the shrimp ceviche thing for around 5 years now, and I have the sense that it's time to move on to something new.

Not really sure what to do with this one. I could keep the herb salad and do a little piece of cold poached salmon or seared-but-mostly-raw tuna in place of the shrimp. Or I could go in a more bitter direction and do something with frisee or endive. I like to stick with seafood until the main course. Still thinking about this one.

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